India’s Environmental Challenges

Friday was World Environment Day, and here in India many different newspapers covered different facets of the environmental challenges facing India. An excellent new paper, Mint (published in part by the Wall Street Journal) had an informative report on the current environmental challenges facing the country. The report outlined five major environmental issues facing the country; certainly not the only ones, but a good place to start learning about the work that needs to be done to create a sustainable foundation for growth here:

  1. Water availability in India is “rapidly” running dry and is an issue that needs to be confronted soon before it faces a severe water crisis. Only 67% of rural Indians have access to water in their homes (as opposed to 95% in 2005). Solutions can start with rainwater harvesting for large buildings and fixing distribution losses.

  2. Invasive species “are the second biggest threat to biodiversity after deforestation.” India loses a great deal of valuable plants and animals because of invasive species, but at the same time, many of the introduced crops, such as soya and wheat, are financially viable and important. Solutions could include microreserves for native plants

  3. The loss of natural habitats creates situations in which lions, leopards, and monkeys, amongst other animals, create major problems for humans in their daily interactions. As animals ruin property and take lives, humans are tempted to start killing important parts of the environment. The main solution here is not ruining the animals’ native environments, or creating reserves.

  4. India’s energy grid is direly overtaxed, resulting in major power shortages for much of the country. Building efficiency measures, such as those suggested by the Obama Administration in America (reconfiguring buildings to make them more sustainable and making sure future construction is more environmentally friendly, including natural cooling techniques and solar panels.

  5. Mining causes significant soil erosion and deforestation, in addition to forced relocation of tribal peoples. Mining needs to be regulated more strictly by states to prevent widespread illegal mining and environmental ruin.

The crux of all of these reports on World Environment Day is that India’s rapid growth is driving equally rapid environmental destruction. An argument often put forth in developing countries is that it is unfair to ask people to make environmental sacrifices during a period of growth and industrialization when Western countries did not have to make the same choices. Yet, as we get a glimpse of above, India, as a dense country of 1 billion people, faces unique challenges that need unique responses. Action to solve these problems now, even at the expense of slightly slower growth in the future, will allow development to be sustainable and last longer. The new elections have ushered in a lot of optimism for India’s economic future; hopefully the government will recognize the need for smart and sustainable development policies. Wherever you are in the world, there are many things you can do to help make the world a cleaner and greener place.

P.S.: Sorry for the lack of links, the wireless at my grandmother’s in Bombay is just a little slower than the one in Chicago =)

9 thoughts on “India’s Environmental Challenges

  1. Water problem is the most acute and immediate of all the listed ones. In the last 30 years, many villages have moved to depending on rain water rather than ground water. Long time ago I have heard of a proposal to build national water grid (I think during when PVN Rao was prime minister) but that would means states resolving the water disputes (eg Karnataka-TN & Andhra-Maharashtra) properly.

    The only way to spur energy conservation by Indians is to price the energy properly. The price of electricity is tiered but not by a lot. Increasing that would induce middle and upper middle class folks to save energy.

  2. To me what is really scary is the rapidly receding Himalayan glaciers, most notably the Gaumukh glacier, where Ganga starts. If these disappear, the North Indian rivers will just become a “barsati naala”, flooding in the monsoon season and dry at other times.

  3. back in 97, i remember reading a fairly extensive series of articles in india today on how bad the water situation can get in india. there is the following site: that collects information on water policy in india, though not in a very reader friendly manner. one question: water per capita per annum was projected to drop from 2731 cubic m in 1991 to 2000 cubic m in 2020 and 14xx in 2050. how good is this projection?

    water scarcity is real and potentially huge. i don’t know how much longer we have an opportunity to react, is there any leads in Mint’s article about that?

    but on second thought, let it be. first data point: did it really drop from 96% to 67%?

    and the solution is rainwater harvesting for larger buildings—to fix problems in rural areas? what rural areas are they talking about? if this is the magnitude of loss in the north, it is unlikely you will fix the problem even if you drastically reduced urban consumption.

    secondly, distribution losses??? first time i heard this wrt to water—how much do they estimate “distribution losses” are? in several rural areas, there is no distribution, leave alone distribution losses. frankly, it makes me suspicious of Mint’s article—they seem to be writing some generic nonsense once someone told them water is a problem.

  4. I think there are two issues here: 1. Whether India is going to be proactive in choosing an alternate developmental path from the destructive, unnatural, and degradation-based development path of the U.S. and other “western” nations; and 2. Whether it will hold other nations accountable for their share of environmental harm, as well.

    There’s a lot of potential in a growing economy to “get it right” and “do it different.” Some of these issues are issues that India has control over — e.g., protecting its citizens from the groundwater depletion/raiding of multinational corporations (coughcoughCoca-Colacoughcough). Other features, including climate change, are the product of a collective, global failure to prioritize the environment.

  5. the rapidly receding Himalayan glaciers, most notably the Gaumukh glacier, where Ganga starts.

    are we sure this is not an islamic conspiracy?

  6. “Building efficiency measures, such as those suggested by the Obama Administration in America (reconfiguring buildings to make them more sustainable and making sure future construction is more environmentally friendly, including natural cooling techniques and solar panels.”

    I think India is way ahead of the US when it comes to energy efficiency already and shouldn’t really be looking to a high-wastage society like the US for lessons here. Every other house in Bangalore already seems to have solar water heaters. Public transportation is widely used. “Tube lights” are widely used for lightning even at homes. While there is always room for more efficiency, the US would be the last country to take lessons from.

  7. Post World Environment Day, We have so many things to ponder on environmental change in India. We have been counted in with the list of other South Asian countries prone to natural disasters by UN in their report mentioned on our blog – Always Indian. The link to it – The reason given by the United Nations is shame on us, According to the report the developing countries lack in disaster planning methods and require a better planning. We hope understand this at the earliest.

  8. Infact its right time to act at all levels to counter the problems. Mass awareness and resposiveness towards environment is very very poor among indians. Same time the unabilty of Beauraucrats either due to complacency or uleterior motives to deliver the mandated provisions for effective enforcement of various environmental Laws/Acts, lukewarm and superficial attitude of corporates, lowest priorty of Government coupled with problems of unemployment and hunger have made our country as one of the easiest targets for propogation and multiplication of environmental hazards.